In memory of Nagasaki and Hiroshima
Memorial in Nagasaki
Hiroshima and Nagasaki - these two cities were hit by a nuclear bomb, Hiroshima on 6th of August, Nagasaki a few days later on 9th of August. Their destructive powers exceed the dimensions of Guernica in a most horrific way.
Until then no one had the experience what happens when nuclear bombs are dropped. That was the case in 1945 when the decision was made by the USA government to drop the bombs on Japan.
At this river bank thousands of people died in 1945
The founding of
In 1995 Kids' Guernica was founded in Japan in response to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Among the founders was Prof. Abe and Tom Anderson.
Tom Anderson reaccounted what experience he made when he visited that special memorial place in Nagasaki:
“When standing there, a Japanese woman appeared suddenly beside him. She had signs of burns all over her skin and in her nose were tubes to breathe. She had suddenly appeared beside him. When she looked up to him, she smiled. He realized she was one of those who had survived by miracle the atomic blast.”
Tom goes on to describe how much her smile unsettled him. After all he was an American! Suddenly he felt such pain, that he could no longer stand it to be at that place. Within one hour he was again on board of one of the bullet trains ready to leave Nagasaki and to go back to Tokyo.
Such human pain accompanies Kids' Guernica. It constitutes fore mostly the work of redemption, namely to let this pain come out. The human cry of anguish is often done in silence. It may be shown only by some tear drops in the eyes as seen on the left side of the peace mural from Lebanon. But it suffices when resistance is expressed. In Lebanon it meant "Enough! We want to live." This mural was done in 2007, soon thereafter it became the rallying cry of the Arabic Spring in 2011. To let out human pain in an artful way means also to trust again what the eyes can see. They do not look the other way when someone else is in pain.
When students of Monique Kissel at Saint Denis University in Paris were doing their special mural, they departed from Picasso's cryptic description of human pain as manifested in the cry. They sought to work out that special human moment, to bring forth since usually it is a most intimate moment when the human soul cries out due to an unexplainable pain. It is like the soul having been harpooned and the body makes cart wheels through the airs not out of job but out of pain. What happens in such a moment is that the entire human being is revealed
Alone these examples show that since 1995 many different kinds of developments have taken place in Japan and around the world with regards to Kids' Guernica. The basic idea is quite simple: let children paint together a peace mural on a canvas the same size of Picasso's Guernica. Beyond that each action has an own story to tell if done properly.
But to come back to Japan, there exists a most telling mural about Nagasaki. The message of that mural links the event with the need to rebuild not only the city, but also the prerequisites for peace. It is powerful wish that never again should war be started and even worse end like Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Every year memorial celebrations take place in Nagasaki
In the background there can be seen a statue which appears as well in the mural just mentioned. This sculpture can be taken as a symbol of the new Japan: a Zen figure, but no longer just passive, for one leg is indicating that the figure is ready for action, for making a move.
Until most recently that dynamic part seemed to express itself only in terms of economic efficiency and progress made as Japan freed itself from the ashes of Second World War. It reflected a collective spirit attempting to bridge tradition with modernity. Such bridge builders could be found amongst those who endorse Kids' Guernica.
Takuya Kaneda explained the philosophy behind all these efforts. For it is akin to what the cherry blossom symbolizes in Japanese culture. They blossom only for two weeks a year and every year people turn out to celebrate this natural event. The blossoming of the cherry trees is considered in Japan to be like life itself: 'beautiful but short!'
Cherry Blossoms - on rice paper done by 80 people of the ages 2 to 80
This special mural was done by using printing techniques on rice paper. Altogether 80 people in the ages from two to eighty were involved. As such it shows what a collective effort can achieve when in unison and acting out of the belief best are these kinds of collective expressions which uphold a belief in life.
All that changed after the disaster had struck on March 11, 2011. People could not easily go out into the open airs and hold their picknicks as usual beneath the cherry trees in blossom. This provoked in turn another change. For the public silence upheld till then started to show first cracks. An official report looking into the reasons of the disaster named besides technical failures and lack of governmental supervision as well a kind collective obedience to authorities. The latter means giving in without protest, without demanding any accountability from a coalition of special interest group constituted by governmental officials and the atom lobby. The latter had managed to unfold a clever PR strategy which could silence any objection to the use of nuclear power. This is all the more amazing considering what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and which is remembered every year. How was that collective silence possible?
One explanation may be that with public obedience goes as well a Zen like practice of silence. Rather than naming things directly, open conflicts are avoided. It is thought to be wise like water which circumvents the stone as obstacle but in knowing quite well over time the water shall wear down the stone. It shall only take time, even if centuries!
Unfortunately such a parabel does not hold necessarily in real life. Both the individual and any kind of collectivity have to uphold life by becoming consistent with some basic values designed to safeguard life. A modern society cannot simply assume, therefore, life is safeguarded when going almost uncontrolled the nuclear way.
All that became most evident when a powerful earthquake on March 11, 2011 evoked another great tragedy in Japan. The earthquake related Tsunami wave did not make halt despite a ten meter high wall which having been erected along the coast line for precisely this purpose. The wave swept simply over it and destroyed anything in its way. It hit among many other places the nuclear power station at Fukushima. The latter is described as the worst disaster since Chernobyl.
All the more of interest what shall emerge now out of Japan. One important thesis has already been refuted: people in crisis do not become necessarily more egoistical, rather they reveal hidden qualities of human solidarity. This Kids' Guernica shows in a special way but still there are obstacles in need to be overcome.
One puzzle has been the ill conception of erecting such a high wall that entire communities were led to believe they are safe from any Tsunami wave. Little of that ever was mentioned. Only when a Greek professor for geology returned from the disaster struck areas, was the implication of the wall named directly. As a Greek he wondered how was it possible that people allowed themselves to be cut off from the sea. For the wall was so high that people could not see the sea. They could only hear it faintly as existing on the other side and since there was no ready access, it meant being cut off from the sea in a most artificial way. It underlines how technology combined with ill conceived engineer feats can evoke an even greater alienation of mankind from nature.
There is a beautiful Kids' Guernica mural which shows what children dream about most: an ocean filled with many different kinds of animals and all happy to be swimming in the same element, namely one big ocean!
Since 1995 Kids' Guernica in Japan has come a long way and proven to be most consistent to its core ideas ensuring decentralized, local actions with anyone wishing to do likewise with a bunch of kids to come on board. In Japan Kids' Guernica has organized countless events at schools, in communities and even in shopping malls in Nagasaki. Events there are organized especially by Prof. Abe and bring to light both the murals and the laughter of children happy to see such a display of colours.
Japanese children at the Kids' Guernica exhibition
The Kids' Guernica exhibition goes in conjunction with memorial services being held in Nagasaki each year from 5th until 10th of August. But now that nuclear power has become still another threat, it will be important to bear in mind the latest experiences of Kids' Guernica.
Since the disaster has struck, Takuya Kaneda and others linked to Kids' Guernica have been doing countless actions especially with children from those affected areas. Painting becomes more and more a therapeutic method to overcome trauma. The disaster means that children and their families have not lost only their homes, but familiar streets through which they would go to school.
The disaster in Japan had tremendous repercussions world wide. In Germany, it brought for the first time in Baden Württemberg, one of the wealthiest 'Länder' (states) a Green politician into power while Chancellor Merkel realized now it was time to turn of the electricity supply coming from nuclear power stations. The experiences made can be linked to many things, including how to question power especially when it leads to abuse and risks for the lives of people.
Kids' Guernica is not necessarily a political movement from its origin. Rather it wishes to attain a realistic language so that children can keep over time their dreams and wishes for a peaceful world alive. After all they have to grow up in a world frought with many dangers and set-backs. That is why children can be so much more convincing when they say not to give up hope - eventually peace will be brought about by all! The world is filled with smiling kids when they do such a Kids' Guernica action, and this all thanks to what was started in Japan 1995.
Note: in 2015 a 70 meter long mural was created in memory of Hiroshima, see
Kid’s Guernica :